Wanted: Yankee Business Experience
Ed Landreth has criss-crossed the world to such far away places as Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Peru, Turkey and Poland. Not a bad way to spend your retirement years. But when he packs for each venture, he brings more with him than just the right clothes for the climate; he brings his years of experience in the garment industry. Landreth, retired vice president of a men's slacks manufacturer, is one of 12,000 volunteers of the International Executive Service Corps (IESC).
IESC is a not-for-profit agency based in Stamford, Conn., that recruits retired, highly skilled U.S. executives and technical advisors to share their experiences with businesses in developing nations. Founded in 1964 by David Rockefeller, former chairman of Chase, IESC is one of many programs (including the Peace Corps) that evolved during the Kennedy era--an outgrowth of the New Frontier. The program was officially announced at the White House on June 15, 1964, by President Lyndon Johnson.
The idea is that U.S. executives can take their 35-plus years' experience gained in corporate America to help other nations develop their business skills. IESC has 37 Country Directors around the world who not only help to facilitate volunteers' efforts, but also serve as "salespeople" for the organization by scouting for businesses in need of help. Also, advisory councils of local business leaders have been set up to work with Country Directors to target those areas where IESC's services are most needed.
Whether the problem is lack of profits, outdated machinery or manufacturing methods, absence of accounting systems and other financial controls, or simply a desire to get ahead but no idea of how to get there, IESC has the right volunteer.
Landreth, for example, has gone on 19 projects since he joined IESC in 1978. One of his most recent projects, last April, included a trip to Poland to study the garment industry for the Polish Council of Ministers. Having worked in the garment industry at Hathaway, McGregors and BVD, he had the right background necessary to examine seven plants to determine whether they could be incorporated into a joint venture or how much it would cost to put the plants into working condition.
What he found varied from primitive work conditions, to outdated manufacturing methods, to lack of authoritative management. In one case, the plant was run from the first floor of a private home; in several of the others,
the workers used an assembly line system that could only move at the speed of the least-efficient worker. At most of the plants no one had any idea what it cost to make each garment or what percentage of the final products were rejects or seconds. But probably the worst problem Landreth found was a lack of supervisor training: "You couldn't tell the managers from the operators," he says. This lack of control, Landreth found, was due to the supervisors' fear of the workers. The employees belong to the Worker's Council, a Polish union that has the power to...